Because steelhead are in so many places in the state over such a long period of time, it’s hard to say there is a best time and place to go steelhead fishing. However, their upstream migration provides a general timeline for when they will likely arrive in different waters.
July through September: As steelhead start arriving into Idaho they tend to move into the Clearwater River using it as a thermal refuge. These early arriving fish tend to remain in the Clearwater until the Snake River cools toward the end of September or beginning of October.
October through December: October is an exciting time for steelhead anglers as two things tend to happen. Fish start spreading upstream into the Snake and Salmon rivers and by the time you reach November steelhead can be caught about everywhere. Another exciting thing that starts to happen in October is the larger B-run steelhead start entering the Clearwater River.
January and February: January and February can be times to fish with a little more solitude on the Clearwater, Little Salmon and Salmon rivers. Cold water reduces fish activity and catch rates decline, but fishing can still be productive when conditions are good.
March through May: The Salmon River upstream of Salmon, the Little Salmon River, the North Fork Clearwater and the South Fork Clearwater all provide the best fishing in the spring. Catch rates can be really good then as the fish are moving into the smaller rivers at the end of their migration.
Each month of the year and each location provide a completely different experience – the long days of September on the lower Clearwater, a warm October day in the Salmon River canyon, a cold January day in a drift boat near Riggins or Orofino, or the spring thaw in the Stanley Basin in April. The best time to fish for steelhead is a personal choice.